Car buyer's guide: Family seven-seater

By Phil Hanson

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Toyota Previa. Photo / Supplied
Toyota Previa. Photo / Supplied

The dilemma

The Wilson family now numbers six; mum, dad and four children aged from 5 months to 8 years.

They've been getting around in a tired, early-model Toyota Camry wagon, somewhat cramped with five on board and impossible with six.

So it's time for a changeover to a seven-seater that will provide extra space and help them hedge their bets against an increase in family numbers.

They want something reasonably compact and fairly mainstream - no Europeans, thank you.

A former neighbour used to have a Suzuki XL7, basically a stretched version of the Grand Vitara SUV, and spoke well of it.

Would this be a goer for them, the Wilsons wonder, and what about a couple of alternatives?

The budget:

About $20,000

The shortlist

Suzuki XL7
Although it accommodates seven, the third row of seats is really only suitable for kids - not a problem in the Wilsons' case. Access to the third row is quite good. The 2.7-litre V6 engine is moderately thirsty but on the other hand the XL7 meets the family's wish for something reasonably compact.

A small drawback, that's not the XL7's fault, is that the Wilsons would be carrying around the weight and complexity of a 4WD system that they'll never use.

There's a reasonable supply of low-mileage 2001-03 models that come in well under budget.
From $14,000

Honda Odyssey
Here's a classy, well-equipped and reasonably compact seven-seater that has a good track record, is quite economical and still fairly peppy thanks to a 2.4-litre 119kW motor. Despite a low roof (overall height is just 1550mm), Odyssey makes good use of the interior space and the back seats are reached easily.

There's a good supply of New Zealand new and used import third-generation Odysseys in the 2004-05 range well within budget, but beware of potential maintenance problems with any that use a CVT automatic gearbox.
From $15,000

Toyota Previa
One of the great people-movers, the Previa (or Estima if you're shopping used imports) is similar in overall size to the Honda but has a significantly higher roofline. V6 models may be a bit heavy on fuel, while the 116kW 2.4 four-cylinder is a bit lethargic with a load. Avoid used import diesels.

A couple of taxi drivers who Buyers' Guide has spoken to have put more than 300,000 kilometres on their Previas with only routine maintenance. If they can stand up to the rigours of taxi work, they'll withstand Wilson family duties. There's lots of choice and $20,000 should buy an excellent 2003-06 model.
From $13,000

SUV seating

Some buyers seem to think seven seats and SUVs go hand in hand, but there are other choices. Some station wagons offer third-row seating and there's the admirable Mazda MPV, which looks like a 4WD but isn't. Some use Japanese vans as people-carriers but Buyers' Guide worries about safety, particularly relating to frontal impact.

Driven recommends

The Suzuki's a sound vehicle, but why drive around with that never-to-be-used 4WD stuff? The Odyssey is a beautiful vehicle, inside and out.

A lot comes down to personal preference, such as interior layout and ease of access to the third row of seats, so the Wilsons need to go and kick a few tyres. But if Buyers' Guide was doing the buying, it would be goodbye tired Camry, hello Previa; it's just a great, roomy all-rounder.

- NZ Herald

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